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My questions focus on developing a way to authentically assess students study skills particularly for Biology/ Life Sciences. I am interested in linking capable students and inexperienced students to explore whether peer learning can increase the success rate of the least college ready students.
 
Reference 1 
McEwen, L. A., Harris, D., Schmid, R. F., Vogel, J., Western, T., and Harrison, P. 2009). Evaluation of the Redesign of an Undergraduate Cell Biology Course. Cell Biol. Educ. 8, 72-78.
 
The article provides a summary of an Evaluation of a course Redesign for an Introductory Cell Biology course. Two metrics used to evaluate the effectiveness of this particular redesign were a Science Laboratory Environment Inventory which allowed students to report on distinct areas of the lab environment for example open endedness of the lab experiments, extent to which the lab was guided by formal rules, integration of the lab with the non-lab components of the course, and adequacy of lab equipment and materials.
The second instrument was a matrix of curricular skills specifically designed to assess 20 defined laboratory techniques.
 
Why this article is useful.
I am interested in learning about developing tools for authentic assessment and may be able to model assessments on one or both of these instruments. Also, it focuses on the idea that while having and implementing new ideas is fine, studying whether or not they are effective is just as important and that this step is often overlooked. I identified with this statement to a great degree. Knowing how to assess effectiveness and when to keep employing or try something new are central steps, and ones in which I can improve for my classes.
 
 
 
Reference 2
Miller, S. Pfund, Christine Pribbenow, C.M. and Handelsman, J. (2008). Scientific Teaching in Practice. Science 322, 1329-1330.
In this research article, the authors report on a Teaching Fellows program at University of Wisconsin-Madison in which Graduate Students and Post doctoral Fellows were placed into cohorts with the goal of learning to foster scientific creativity, scientific reasoning and problem solving in undergraduate Biology courses. Active learning included use of hand held response devices, response to multiple choice or conceptual questions, analysis of case studies and engaging in discussion in small groups. It was found that the majority of graduate students and Post Doctoral Fellows involved in the 3 years of this study, agreed that scientific teaching is effective, that the instructors rated themselves as good teachers and that they felt engaged as a part of a scientific teaching community. One of the hallmarks of the scientific teaching moved emphasis away from the teacher as the center of the class and made the focus instead be on the students as learners with their own inherent responsibilities for engaging in the learning process.
 
Why this article is useful.
Several of the traits identified as student centric classes parallel my own approach, so the validation is nice;  I will employ the method of including a baseline assessment of prior knowledge in each class in future sections  and use this as a frame of reference for comparison at the end of the course. Questions on assignments will also be studied to ensure a range of learning objectives are being assessed. Furthermore, I plan to study how the activities I include as part of my study will both engage students and serve as a means of assessing students’ gains.
 
 
Reference 3
Crowe, A. Dirks, C. and Wenderoth, M. P. (2008)  Biology in Bloom: Implementing Blooms’ Taxonomy to Enhance Student learning in Biology. Cell Biol. Educ. 7, 368-381.
 
In this study the authors develop an assessment tool, Blooming Biology Tool (BBT) to assist Biology faculty in evaluating the effectiveness of their teaching and meeting a variety of educational objectives. Use of the tool additionally helped student to learn study skills and how to think about thinking and learning (metacognition). The tool is based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives which groups questions into lower order skills, (rote memorization to simple comprehension) and higher order skills (from deeper understanding, analysis and evaluation). The authors applied to tool to a wide range of questions prepared for Biology students in a variety of college settings. It was a useful tool for evaluation of research proposals in an introductory Cell Biology course, in a upper level Physiology course, and in a workshop for upper level course that spanned a year long program and included labs, lectures, and seminars and which integrated concepts from the fields of immunology, cell biology, virology, organic chemistry, and biochemistry.
Students in the workshop were also instructed and learned how to evaluate questions using the Bloom’s taxonomy. Both analyzing questions and learning to write good questions proved to be a valuable study skill for many of the students. The authors concluded that their tool did prove very useful in both assessing students and in helping faculty to evaluate and re-think their approaches to introducing concepts.
Using defined learning goals allows the Instructor and the student to understand the different levels of challenge presented by different types of questions.
 
 
Why this article is useful.
I would like to implement this tool (BBT) to introduce students to skills beyond rote recitation of memorized facts for examining the development of students’ study skills. It will also be useful to assess the appropriateness of the questions being used on Exams. In previous classes I have given students opportunities to design some Exam questions. Perhaps doing so in the reference frame of Bloom’s Taxonomy, over several weeks, will allow students to learn the distinction between such skills as list and name (knowledge level) vs. analyze or explain the relationship to… higher level analytic objectives. While I In many classes I have introduced Bloom’s Taxonomy in many classes, I have not done so in a consistent or persistent manner.   Therefore, I am interested in employing this tool to study whether teaching students about the hierarchy of levels of  understanding will improve their learning  In additionally I am interested , in use of the tool to insure that the level of questioning is appropriately aligned with the level the introduction of the material being studied.
 
 
Reference 4
Kimberly D. Tanner, Kimberly D. (2009) Talking to Learn: Why Biology Students Should Be Talking in Classrooms and How to Make It HappenCell Biol. Educ. 8(2): 89-94 2009, DOI: 10.1187/cbe.09-03-0021

This article details the value of providing opportunities for student to talk in class and address questions on newly introduced topics.  Ideally the question is not one that is quickly answered with a one or two word. Rather, it’s a questions designed to elicit alternate explanations or promote discussion. Further the article discusses common barrier to this approach and gives reasons to alleviate or overcome them.
 
Why this article is useful.
I am particularly interested in motivating students without solid college level study skills. One way I would like to approach this issue is to pair such student with their peers who have navigated science successfully and who have sound approaches.  This article discusses using Student Talk (with or without clickers); getting the mouth moving and doing the mental work required to think through a newly learned idea uses a different brain region than simple auditory input , regardless of how focuses and attentive a student is. In casual observation, I have noticed its much easier to be attentive (especially in an area that they deem “hard” or is not truly their favorite) it they are engaged… if they must contribute with their peers.
 
I think one simple, but hopefully effective technique I am likely to employ with a class in the Fall, is use of an index card, that may or may not be collected.  Already I have students writing something for submission, (and points) each class.  By adding the dimension of discussion with a classmate, more students may gain both in skills and content knowledge.  The real benefit seems to come to the students who talk (vs. students who primarily listened to their classmates).
 
Additionally, I found value in the ideas in the article that getting students talking and thinking things through out loud is in itself a valuable skill; am very interested to have student learn that developing thinking skills is far more important that learning a list of memorized facts. The idea that students can talk to think something through without having all the “answers” or information is novel to some students. While they may do so privately, some students are much more reticent to do so in a class environment unless that atmosphere is particularly encouraged.
 
 
Reference 5
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Strengthening Pre-Collegiate Education in Community Colleges. (2008). Basic Skills for Complex Lives. Designs for Learning in the Community College.  
 
This monograph is a detailed report from the Carnegie Foundation and encompasses several years of study. The William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation together with Carnegie have been engaged in increasing student access and success in Community Colleges in California. Ultimately it details the need to improve the development of basic core skills “Pre-Collegiate Skills” that will allow students to be successful in continuing their college education. Five principles are identified that demonstrate an understanding of teaching these basic skills.
 
“1. High Structure 2. High Challenge 3. Intensity 4. Intentionality and Learning How to Learn 5. Inquiry and Making Learning Visible”
 
The report further describes ways that employing these principles may improve all courses, not only developmental courses. The value of this report cannot be overstated. At a time when community college enrollment is dramatically increasing, there is a definite need to bring the highest level of academic preparation to this population of students.
 
Why it will be useful.
I am only focusing here on Principle 4 above, “Learning how to learn.”
One of the most persistent factors I have identified with students who struggle is being unable to handle college level work; they have not been previously exposed to rigorous thinking they believe every thing they need to know will be presented in exactly a word for word format in class and that if they simply memorize and recite they will be fine. College preparedness extends beyond basic skills in English and Math. Of course, these skills are critical for students’ success. However, there are equally central skills (e.g. persistence and planning) that many students do not have and do not receive enough practice in, to achieve understanding and mastery in an introductory Science class.
 
Fostering and encouraging an environment in which students can identify their struggles and begin to identify ways to meet their challenges allows them to begin to identify steps to improve. One technique I have employed in the past is to ask students to contact me (email or in person) to describe the method(s) they have used for studying (when a low score is earned) and then to identify new approaches that he or she may take when beginning the study of the next topics under discussion. I would like to extend this conversation beyond a one time event and beyond only with the instructor only, in order to develop a dialogue between the struggling and not struggling students.
Teaching note taking and outlining, pairing students in Learning partnerships, and teaching students skills to monitor their own progress are potential ways to improve student success skills.
 
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